I’ve been working some overtime lately, so my posting schedule has fallen a bit behind. Ah well, we’ll get there in the end!
I picked this up after seeing it recommended on a few blogs, and I’m glad I did because it’s a beautiful book. We follow four teenagers in Alaska in the 1970s, as they go through events that change their lives in various ways. But in some ways this is a novel about place rather than plot, and the version of Alaska that Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock evokes is messy, and real, and beautiful, and heart-breaking. The writing style is wonderfully understated, the characters are unusually varied (native Alaskans FTW!), and I just really enjoyed it, you guys.
As I said on my Instagram, I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, it’s a touching, slightly heart-breaking story about a girl whose father just doesn’t come home one day (it’s set in Poland during the purges of the intellectual and professional classes during World War II). She meets a stranger who teaches her how to survive in the wilderness, and moves through the war as best she can. On the other hand, it’s unresolved somehow. There are a lot of implications in this book (Anna doesn’t know about the Nazi purges, and she also doesn’t know who the Swallow Man really is although we as adult readers are given enough information to make a guess), but very little that’s concrete. I understand that the uncertainty reflects the war, but as a story-telling method I’m not sure it worked for me. One thing I will say is that there are a few reviews on Goodreads that have a problem with the narrative voice being too advanced for a child as young as Anna – here’s the thing, the story is Anna’s, but it isn’t told by her, it’s told by an all-seeing narrator, so… no Goodreads, reviewers, I gotta disagree with you on that one.
I had such high hopes for this book. Two scientists trapped at a remote research station is always a good start, and I was hoping for an atmospheric horror story. Unfortunately, all the events of synopsis take place in the first chapter. After that we jump forward in time, and embark on a detailed discourse on philosophy, religion and science. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not put off by the idea of that, but it just wasn’t what I expected from this particular book. This is actually the second book I’ve read by Adam Roberts (I read The Snow in 2009), and the second one that disappointed me.
This is one of the strongest Constantine collections that I’ve read. It’s creepy, and ugly, and twisty, and very John Constantine. All of that said, an awful lot of women die in this volume, mostly to propel John’s own story forward, so that’s… less good.
Another book that I had high hopes for, and another book that let me down. The reviews I read of this all said it was an excellent horror story, and I don’t really understand why. The basic idea is brilliant – the town of Black Spring is haunted by a woman who was killed in the 17th century for being a witch. She pops up at random all over town and creeps people out with her sewn up eyes. But they’ve gotten used to her, so they track her movements on an app, and they just throw a sheet over her if she shows up during dinner. So far, so excellent. But here’s the thing, the execution of the story is not nearly as strong as the basis of the story. It loses something, I feel, in being moved to an American town in its translation (originally written in Dutch, it was set in the Netherlands). The change of location robs some of the inherent creepiness of a setting you’re mostly unfamiliar with. There are also quite a few moments were characters are referred to as ‘proud’ Americans, usually in conjunction with them acting like dimwits, and that made me uncomfortable given that the writer himself is not American. My biggest problem with this book though, is the misogyny that runs through every single bit of it. Almost all of the main characters are men. The only noteworthy female character apart from the witch herself, the town’s butcher, is described as hideously fat, and dull to boot. She was the victim of domestic abuse and rape in the past, and is raped again during the book. A rape which doesn’t even have the decency to pretend to advance the plot, might I add. All the other women mentioned are good little wives who dance to the tune of their menfolk, or they are women who we are told could be sexually attractive if it wasn’t for the shocking flaws they have, like having gigantic foreheads (seriously). Gigantic foreheads are the worst. And, despite teenagers playing a major role, there are no teenage girls mentioned. At all. Then there’s the authors really weird obsession with ‘tits’. The town’s politician threatens the butcher and while he does it, he grabs her breast and squeezes it painfully. The witch, in a moment that is disgusting rather than scary, is stabbed in the breast by a teenager, with her breast being described in really unnecessary detail. And, in the weirdest example, children are swaddled and placed together into a mound that looks like a giant breast with a nipple on top (the nipple being the butcher, because why wouldn’t she be a nipple?). Yeah, okay then. Oh, and let’s not forget that it’s not at all scary.
Seren lives on a Generation ship that is 80 years into a 700 year mission. To maximise diversity, everyone on the ship is scientifically paired with a life partner when they finish school. Life is regimented, and creativity is limited. But this life has never sat well with Seren, and without realising what’s happening, she falls in love with someone who is definitely not her assigned life partner. The sci-fi parts of this are pretty solid. Generation ships have such potential for storytelling, and I liked the restrictions Ling included which are intended to stop the crew moving too far away from the society they’ve left behind. This is a Young Adult novel though, and the sci-fi elements are outweighed by the love story which is, well, a bit much. Seren falls in love almost immediately, and it is THE BEST THING IN THE WHOLE WORLD. Her love is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED. And that gets a bit tiresome, to be honest. So, overall, The Loneliness of Distant Beings is a decent but not fantastic read (with a great title).